Faisal Hashmi’s house of horrors

Rohit Nair (Faisalís photos by M Sajjad)
Filed on April 11, 2014
Faisal Hashmiís house of  horrors

Faisal Hashmi is one of the youngest filmmakers in the UAE, with a penchant for the scary stuff and big dreams for an evolve cinema-scape in the country

Faisal Hashmi’s house of  horrors (/assets/oldimages/horror_11042014.jpg)What if the UAE had its own production house that regularly churned out 
acclaimed movies from across various genres and helped budding filmmakers with a platform to showcase their talents? This is just one of the many dreams of 23-year-old Faisal Hashmi, a self-taught, fast-talking, multi-talented filmmaker, who is incidentally working on a new film from a genre rarely attempted in these parts: horror. But, with last year’s success of his horror/supernatural thriller short Scrambled — which won Best Film at Murdoch’s My Film Fest in Dubai in 2013, and went on to win recognition internationally at the Malta Horror Fest, the Oshkosh Horror Film Festival, the South Africa Horror Fest, the Germany After Dark Horror Film Festival and others — and the more recent success of his latest horror short Cold Feet, Faisal is becoming the change he wants to see in the industry here. And he’s more chuffed than he ever thought possible.

“I never imagined this kind of recognition and such a global audience for my home productions,” he says — and they truly are home productions, with Faisal playing the roles of cameraman, 
producer, sound and light technician, editor, script and screenplay writer, with most of the shooting done in one location. Faisal’s inspiration, he says, is Robert Rodriguez, who is widely considered as a champion of independent filmmaking with his glorious low-budget classic El Mariachi. “He made the movie on a 
budget of $7,000. He did everything by himself and even invented low budget ‘hacks’ to achieve certain effects, like 
using a broken hospital wheelchair to get moving shots on camera. That’s the kind of filmmaker I want to be,” he says.

Faisal Hashmi’s house of  horrors (/assets/oldimages/horror1_11042014.jpg)On Set: Faisal Hashmi shooting on location for his award-winning short film Bubble

Born and brought up in Sharjah to Pakistani parents, Faisal’s tryst with filmmaking was a more recent affair. “I used to write short stories in school and even attempted some novels,” which he’s dismayed to reveal he hasn’t finished. “Then I went to college, where I continued to write, and I realised that a lot of my 
stories were very visual in nature and could be a good base for short films.”

That was when he set out to make his first short film, a sci-fi thriller, when he was just 19. “I didn’t have any money, so I borrowed my parents’ cheap camcorder, asked my friend to play the lead role, shot the film in one location and did all the legwork to finish the movie at home.” Before that, he spent weeks researching and learning tricks of the trade that he could incorporate into his short.

Faisal Hashmi’s house of  horrors (/assets/oldimages/horror2_11042014.jpg)Working the angles: Faisal works closely with Adnan Khan, who plays the lead in Bubble

The result was a three-minute short — The Loop — that took about 10 hours to make, and won acclaim and audience appreciation at local film festivals. Faisal knew then that he had arrived. Arrived at his calling.

Following the encouraging results of the short, he set out to make another, this time it was a comedy, shot at IKEA Dubai, based on the theme of ‘Home’ set by the Makshoof 1-Minute Film Competition in 2011. Titled Perfect Living, Faisal’s short won him some recognition but, more importantly, he was asked to submit his film to the Abu Dhabi Film Commission. What happened next was a sign from the movie gods — his film was showcased at The Cannes Film Festival in March of that year garnering international acclaim.

Next in line was Bubble in 2011, which involved more actors and more locations — what Faisal considers his biggest undertaking so far. “There was just one line of dialogue, but it was more about creating ‘atmosphere’ through the actors and their emotions.” If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s up on YouTube and highly recommended. Now, his penchant for the horror genre and creating atmospheric fear for moviegoers is pushing him to explore a genre rarely tackled in the Arab movie making business.

Faisal is fascinated with the emotion of fear, particularly that shivers-down-your-spine feeling that reverberates in you while watching Paranormal Activity or Sinister. “I would like to make something like that,” he says. “Create an 
atmosphere of fear that seeps in —like psychological thrillers. It’s a genre that’s tough to tackle, but if executed well, like Paranormal Activity, even a low budget film can really send audiences screaming.”

Fear is something more universal in film than maybe comedy or drama, he points out. “There are mysterious things in different cultures that scare people,” says Faisal, who frequently seeks out foreign horror films to get his fix. “There are movies that come out of Japan, Thailand or Mexico, that are so creepy and otherworldly. That fear transcends the language barrier. It’s mostly Hollywood movies that get publicised, but horror fans watch foreign films to fill the gaps. There is an element of the unknown when you watch a foreign film — it’s not as polished and there’s not much you know about the culture, the customs, the rituals…”

Faisal Hashmi’s house of  horrors (/assets/oldimages/horror3_11042014.jpg)Scripting scenes: A behind the scenes look at the shooting of Bubble with Adnan Khan

This is what he hopes to achieve with the horror movies he shoots in the UAE. “There’s an element of the familiarity for those that live here, which will add to the creepiness and the fear factor of the movie — an apartment building that you drive by on the way to work, for example. For outsiders, it’s a glimpse of something unknown.” Scrambled, Faisal’s first venture into horror, is more a supernatural thriller, but the fact that it received rave reviews validates his observation that though this genre goes mostly ‘unrecognised’, it has a huge following. “Eve-ryone loves a good creepy, scary movie. You’ll be surprised how much horror movies make at the box office. But often, they are done so poorly, despite big budgets and big name actors.” However, movies like [Rec] (the Spanish original of the American remake Quarantine), Paranormal Activity and Shutter (the Thai original) showed that it’s not about the budget, but having a good hook.

Faisal’s been going to film festivals in the UAE for about four years now and is yet to see a horror movie get a nomination or recognition. He says it’s a real shame and he set out to change that with Scrambled. “People have this idea that horror is lowbrow and there is quite a lot that can go wrong. If you don’t have a good hook and execute it properly, you end up with a terrible movie that goes straight-to-DVD. Just look at all the 
horror movie DVDs on sale!”

Faisal’s second horror short film, Cold Feet, was submitted to Dubai’s 48 Hour Film Project in November 2013. It not only featured as the only horror film, but also won Audience Award, Best Film (2nd Runner Up), Most Promising Filmmaker and Best Use of Prop. “There was a ballot for the categories and I just happened to pick ‘Horror’. I think it was fate.”

His favourite sub-genre is ‘found 
footage’, along the lines of The Blair Witch Project. “There’s a great creep factor, especially when it’s done on a low budget. You don’t see the monster, and sure, if you have the budget, you can have the audiences see the monster. But when you film on a low budget, like I do, it’s more challenging because you have to create the fear and let people’s imagination take over.” He’s also wary that when something becomes successful, there’s the opportunity to monetise and capitalise on it leading to poorly made spin-offs and sequels.

Faisal’s currently working on his first horror full-length feature film, produced 
entirely in the UAE. It’s a natural evolution, but the challenges are multiplied, he says. “The advantage of short films is that you can quickly learn from your mistakes and perfect techniques, as opposed to doing full length features. You can also try out different genres in small doses. Budget is also an issue with feature films.”

Faisal Hashmi’s house of  horrors (/assets/oldimages/horror4_11042014.jpg)But Faisal strongly believes there is great potential in the UAE for a future film 
industry encompassing movies of different genres and styles, especially horror. “It’s a genre that has never seen a lull, but it’s also a genre with a lot of mediocre stuff, which discourages people from making horror films.”

His ultimate goal is to have a horror film festival in Dubai, to give other filmmakers a platform to showcase their work in the UAE. “For us to have a thriving industry here, we need to focus not just on art house cinema but make more movies that people want to watch.” Horror, he adds, is one genre that is sort of universal and has broad appeal. “I’m sure there is someone, somewhere out there, who has made a horror film. It can’t just be me.” He also hopes that horror will lose its ‘lowbrow’ status and actually get a spot on the Oscar list. “Best Horror — now, wouldn’t that be something we could all look out for?”- rohit@khaleejtimes.com

His movies:Faisal’s short films are available online at his production house’s website http://hashmichousefilms.com/

Faisal’s top five favourite horror movies:

1) The Shining

2) [Rec]

3) Shutter (Thai)

4) The Exorcist

5) Saw